It’s February. Valentine’s Day is approaching and love is in the air. And few other animals display their passion more elaborately than the avian species. While breeding season for most birds is still a few months away, Wingscapes is getting a jumpstart on classifying the behaviors that made the term “love birds” a common expression. 

1. Singing 

Even Chaucer’s Chanticleer knew that the way to a lady’s heart is through his song. And most birds know the same—the most common way birds attract a mate is by showing off their musical abilities.  A male’s long, intricate repertoire of songs demonstrates his intelligence and survivability to female birds—traits she hopes to pass on to her offspring. Birds also use these songs to defend their territory against interloping male birds that might win the affections of the female bird and break up the potential pair.          

2. Dancing

Being quick on your feet is a benefit not only for men, but also for male birds. The BBC’s Planet Earth documents the unique (and sometimes comical) dances performed by male birds of paradise. From wing flaps and head dips to “moonwalking,” the male bird’s dance is learned by observing the behaviors of other male birds. In some cases, the female joins in the dance. For instance, male and female grebes do a ballet-like performance in which they mimic each other’s moves before mating.

3. Displays

Male birds are often more beautiful and vibrant than female birds.  The biological explanation for this: males need a competitive edge during mating season. Colorful plumage and skin sacs signal health and vitality to female birds—an indication of reproductive fitness. The most well-known display among all bird species belongs to the peacock. Males with most the attractive trains often gather a harem of female peahens, so they can produce the largest number of offspring possible.

4. Preening  

Male birds like a well-groomed mate, but they take this desire a step further by preening their potential female counterpart. This behavior doesn’t just serve to clean the bird of dust, dirt, and parasites. It also acts as a bonding ritual, letting female birds know the male intends to mate, not fight. The uropygial gland (or preen gland) produces an oily secretion that birds use to cover their plumage. This substance not only protects the birds from bacteria, but also emits a pheromone that attracts interested mates.

5. Feeding

Every good first date includes food. And many male birds follow this rule. To demonstrate their commitment to future offspring, males bring worms or seed to female birds before mating begins. Some female birds depend on their male counterparts to find food while they incubate the eggs or protect the brood, so this gesture confirms the male’s suitability as a mate. The northern strike is one bird who engages in this behavior, killing mice, birds, and insects to gain the favor of his love.     

6. Building

What female bird could resist shopping around? For many bird species, the female bird chooses a mate based on the nest he builds for her. And she has several options available to her—all from competing male birds. Bowerbirds, for example, create their own unique nest (or bower) designs, adding décor that includes anything from soda cans to pebbles to lure females to the roost.

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